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A class assignment led to an opportunity for a Dickinson College student to serve as a founding board member of a new nonprofit organization in Carlisle.

Stephanie Applegate, who graduated from Dickinson College in May, first came in contact with Carlisle’s homeless population as a sophomore when she spent a night a Carlisle CARES. A chance encounter there inspired her to continue working with the homeless population, which led to a senior thesis on homelessness in Carlisle in which she researched community-based solutions to permanently house Carlisle’s homeless.

Along the way, she became a founding board member of New Options for Affordable Housing, an all-volunteer organization dedicated to placing homeless people into permanent housing.

Applegate plans to continue her education to earn a master’s degree in public policy. She is working at the Pennsylvania Senate with Sen. Ryan Aument as a legislative assistant.

Q. How did you first become connected with the homeless population in Carlisle?

A. When I was a sophomore at Dickinson, I participated in a class where we were tasked with spending one night at the local homeless shelter, Carlisle CARES. During my night at CARES, I met up with another girl about my age who was staying in the shelter. After we had been talking for a while, we realized that we had gone to the same elementary school together in Middletown. This realization brought with it a flood of emotions — awkwardness, shock, but mostly frustration. It was incredibly frustrating to me that two people could begin life in the same place, “an equal playing field,” with the same opportunities laid before them, but end up in two wildly different destinations — one in an esteemed educational institution like Dickinson, and the other fleeing from domestic abuse in a homeless shelter. This encounter is what first inspired me to begin working with the local homeless population, with the hope that I could help make a meaningful difference in their lives.

Q. What is NOAH, and how did it come about?

A. NOAH is a coalition of human services experts, local church members, and concerned citizens and students like myself who have come together with the ultimate goal of placing homeless individuals into permanent housing and providing them with the resources and support that they need to succeed in their new home and in the community. NOAH began informally in the fall of 2016 when a small group of interested and caring individuals came together to organize a community forum on homelessness. The purpose of the forum, which took place at the auditorium in the Penn State Dickinson School of Law, was to gauge community interest in alleviating homelessness in our area. Because NOAH is comprised entirely of volunteers, the initial core group of NOAH’s founders wanted to ensure that there would be enough interest across a diverse skill-set spectrum to effectively launch NOAH. More specifically, in order to provide our clients with the supportive services that they need to thrive in their living situation, NOAH is intentionally organized in such a way that each aspect of life is covered by our volunteers. For example, our Social Necessities Team works to provide case management to clients, as well as to link them to the social service agencies and organizations that they need. Our Employment and Career Team seeks to link clients with employment skills and opportunities, and to help them build a network of support for job skill development, including volunteer mentors and business internships/apprenticeships, trade unions and skilled workers. Other NOAH teams include the Housing Resources Team, Maintenance and Construction Team, Health Care Team, Transportation and Car Maintenance Team, Child Care and Early Education Team, Household Needs Team, Legal Team, and more. Our goal at NOAH is to do everything in our power to ensure that our clients are properly cared for and given the resources that they need to improve their lives.

Q. What is the vision for NOAH going into the future?

A. As NOAH grows and becomes a more recognizable organization in Cumberland County’s human services network, our primary goal is to build relationships with the surrounding community including landlords, religious groups, Dickinson College and the Penn State Dickinson School of Law, existing nonprofits and service organizations, and any individual interested in serving the homeless population here in the area. Building these relationships and growing our network is the key to achieving our long-term goal of acquiring housing units or partnering with landlords to provide these units to our clients. Because our focus is on quickly transitioning our clients into a permanent housing unit to get them off the streets, we will eventually begin investing time and resources into the housing search.

Q. How will you take what you have learned as a founding board member into your future endeavors?

A. The most important lesson that I have learned from working at NOAH is the value of service. Every time I attend a NOAH meeting, I am constantly floored by the generosity and devotion that each and every member of the group possesses. Again, all of our members are volunteers; all of our meetings take place at the home of one of our founders; and everything that we have achieved to date has been done without any capital. NOAH has actually already been able to house a formerly homeless veteran and his young son in a unit that was graciously donated by one of our members. All of the subsequent case management and services that these clients have received since they came to NOAH have been provided by professionals working entirely for free. This concept amazes me, and I am so proud to be a contributing member at NOAH.

Q. What practical steps can people take to help the homeless in our area?

A. One practical step that anyone in the community could take to help our homeless population would be to donate their time and skills to NOAH. As I mentioned, the services we offer represent almost every skill set there is from web design to construction to health care. Our teams are in need of devoted individuals interested in putting their unique skills to good use by helping the underserved. Anyone interested in donating their time to a good cause at NOAH can volunteer by contacting us on our newly developed website (created entirely for free, of course) and clicking the “How Can I Help?” tab at the top right of the home page.